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Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 12:04 UK

The 'soap opera' of Apple's rise

By Spencer Kelly
Presenter, Click

David Pogue from The New York Times
David Pogue said Apple is efficient thanks to having one man in charge

Apple has become one of the big success stories in the consumer tech world thanks to popular products such as the iMac, iPod and iPhone.

Co-founder Steve Jobs has been the driving force behind Apple's rise since his return to the company in 1997.

Veteran tech journalist David Pogue from The New York Times believes the firm's success stems from having one man in charge.

"They don't do things by committee and having one person's vision drive the whole ship is hugely important," he said.

"They can do things so much faster and so much more efficiently they just waste a lot less time spinning their wheels," he added.

'Changing the world'

But part of the secret behind its powerful brand is the way the firm is run, with employees only having access to information on a need-to-know-basis.

"The hardware team doesn't know what the software team is doing and vice versa. So often they'll find out when Steve Jobs takes the stage at Macworld to show the public," explained Leander Kahney from Wired Magazine and author of "Inside Steve's Brain".

iPod minis
The iPod has been a mainstay of Apple's business

"The software programmers will be writing software for a device which they don't even know the dimensions of," he added.

Yet for many of those on the inside, working for Apple is a dream job, said Mr Kahney,

"They are absolutely fired up to be working at that company and to be making an impact - they truly believe they are changing the world."

In turn, Apple is a demanding employer which expects its teams to deliver.

Apple told Click that it does not comment on its internal operations, and declined to participate in the programme.

Calculated delivery

The firm celebrated its one billionth download from the iPhone app store in April 2009 - nine months after the shop opened its virtual doors.

It has brought handset applications to the attention of consumers, according to Sasha Segan from PC Magazine.

"Mobile phone apps have been out for years," said Mr Segan, "but Apple's app store is the first time a lot of people heard of them".

The iPhone and the ecosystem that supports it has taken many years to develop.

Mr Kahney described Apple as a "soap opera" but one whose strategy sets the agenda for much of the rest of the industry.

Sasha Segan from PC Magazine
Sasha Segan said Apple is good at innovating existing tech

"It's a very amazing company. What Apple does, the rest of the PC industry follows," he said.

Europe pressure

However, Apple's success has defied conventional wisdom in some ways.

For instance, one of the biggest gripes among consumers is that music and video files are not easily transferrable between different devices.

Yet millions of people have willingly accepted Apple's digital rights management (DRM) system which effectively binds its hardware to its software.

DRM has led to pressure on Apple in Europe to make its products compatible with other systems.

"A number of European countries have basically said you need to drop DRM and you need to make the iPod and the iPhone as well interoperable," said Ryan Block from consumer electronics site GDGT.com.

In January 2009, Apple started selling songs via iTunes that were free of DRM. Many other music download stores sold such tracks, MP3s, before Apple made its move.

Quality protection?

The firm's proprietary streak occasionally runs through to the minutiae of headphone sockets and headphones themselves.

With the version of the iPod shuffle introduced in March 2009, Apple moved the volume controls onto the headphone cord.

Third parties wanting to make this type of headphone for the Shuffle would have to pay Apple a fee to produce them.

Mr Segan said this was Apple simply protecting the quality of the user's experience.

"Remember that Apple is all about interface... and they don't trust anyone outside their sphere to provide as good a user experience as they do," he explained.

iPod shuffle headphones
The new iPod shuffle has controls on its headphones

He believes Apple's success lies in its ability to turn existing technology into desirable and usable products or services.

"Apple takes often technology that already existed, like let's say the MP3 and turns them into something people are willing to use like the iPod," he said.

Media image

A carefully crafted relationship with the media is another factor in its success as most commentary about Apple's products is positive.

Leander Kahney said the press is used as a marketing tool and that interaction is kept strictly to publicity terms.

"They don't do anything that isn't directly involved in marketing their products," he said.

The shroud of secrecy has in turn given rise to a whole new section of media coverage - the rumour blogs.

Think Secret, for instance, was so successful Apple used a legal challenge to put it out of business.

"Prince McLean", an anonymous contributor to appleinsider.com, said Steve Jobs worked very hard to prevent leaks from insiders, but lawsuits against rumour sites had had an adverse impact.

"Apple looked like they were suing their fans and then that was reported and it made kind of some bad press, and so Apple isn't doing it anymore," he said.

"They are really doing now is internally stopping people from talking to rumour sites… it's getting a tighter ship."



SEE ALSO
Apple unveils latest offerings
12 Jun 09 |  Click

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